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Random Acts of Rudeness

Today's Random Act of Rudeness comes from James J. McGilvray of Oakton, who was recently at Arlington National Cemetery.

James writes:

I was there to attend the interment of an acquaintance, a retired military officer. While standing with approximately 30 family members and friends, the folding of the American flag was underway when I observed a young woman in the group texting or twittering on a device. I was close enough to see her fingers moving over the keyboard. I was not close enough to see what was so important that she would choose to use her device rather than remain still and show the respect due the deceased man and his family during the 20 minute graveside service.
I wonder what your opinion is regarding this act. Please keep up the good work. My wife and I (ages 71 and 72) are hopeful that your columns re civility will be read by some of the offenders, that they will see themselves in your reporting and get them to change their ways.
What do we think? I wondered if she might have been a reporter. If I'd been there, covering the interment, I probably would have been scribbling in a notebook. Is that disrespectful?

If this woman was doing the digital equivalent of that -- entering text -- is that okay? I think it's more likely the woman was a guest. Texting in that circumstance is very rude, since it suggests you are bored by the proceedings. Should James have said something to the woman?

-- John Kelly

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 25, 2009; 10:22 AM ET
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I'm inclined to agree with you John: a reporter taking notes would be fine and probably appreciated as long as she did so unobtrusively, regardless of the medium. But a guest? That strikes me as extremely disrespectful. I don't think James should have said anything, but somebody next to her should have a throat clear and a questioning stare, or something like that.

Posted by: Southwester | June 25, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Apparently people who are raised with instant gratification find it difficult to be still for 20 minutes, regardless of the circumstances. I don't think this is limited to the younger generation, but I will bet that the number of people to whom this applies increases as the age demographic declines.

Posted by: reddragon1 | June 25, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

This sounds like the scene from "Gran Torino" when a teenaged granddaughter was texting at her grandmother's funeral.

Posted by: capsfan77 | June 25, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I have the pleasure of teaching middle school students. We've instituted a "Wall of Maturity" in our classroom to encourage and acknowledge good behavior. We found that labeling good behavior "mature" rather than condemning undesirable behavior as "inappropriate" works well with this 11-15 year-old age group because A) these kids already consider themselves mature; B) they're dying to be recognized as mature by others; and C) labeling behavior appropriate or inappropriate is a judgment, and they don't want to be judged.

We define maturity as putting others before yourself. As soon as we see a student acting maturely, teachers call that act out, write it down on an index card, and stick it up on the wall. The student beams from ear to ear. Examples range from students expressing thanks for a reward even if it's small (like one Skittle) and not asking for more, to a student refraining from acting out when coming into the room and finding a visitor sitting in his chair; from a student relinquishing a prime seat on the back of the bus on a field trip when asked by a teacher, to a size 4 girl offering a size XXX boy her extra pair of gym shorts when he fell in the mud at recess.

Besides celebrating students for thinking about others, the Wall of Maturity identifies desirable behaviors so classmates can increase their vocabulary of what it means to be mature. By the end of the school year, students were pointing out kind acts of their peers and advocating they be recognized on the wall. Likewise, when students act immaturely, teachers recognize that behavior as immature and the students tend to agree without a fuss, because it isn't about judging the behavior, but rather, identifying it. The students are surprisingly cool with owning their immaturity.

Who knows if this slant on behavior would work in cemeteries and movie theaters with our adult peers?

Posted by: heidimai | June 26, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

There's a line here that I'm concerned is being crossed. There's a point at which *actively searching* for "rudeness" is "rude" in and of itself. There's a MYOB factor involved.

I was alwasy under the impression that texting during a movie was so offensive because of the screen. If it's outside, and the kid isn't being a disturbance to anyone, then get over yourself and Mind Your Own Business. You're not being radically civil, you're being a radical jerk.

Posted by: VTDuffman | June 26, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

@VTDuffman: You're right about there being a fine line. I want to stay on the right side of it. Texting during a movie is distracting, for the reason you mention. The light is a physical annoyance. During an outdoor funeral it's a different issue altogether. The disturbance is more psychological. It forces the other people to ponder to themselves: "What can possibly be so important that a person would be texting during a funeral?" It shows, it seems to me, a lack of respect But no one pays to attend a funeral, the way they pay to attend a movie.

I don't want to shy away from confronting rude people, however. Yes, there are times when we should MYOB. But too much minding your OB and we end up with chaos.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | June 27, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Oh and @heidimai: Those sound like wonderful ideas. I love the Wall of Maturity. I wonder if there's a grown-up equivalent?

Posted by: JohnFKelly | June 27, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

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